Magazine article New Zealand Management

Evaluating Individual Performance? Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback. (Evaluating Performance)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Evaluating Individual Performance? Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback. (Evaluating Performance)

Article excerpt

There is a growing school of thought that feedback, even that delivered through the much-vaunted 360-degree process, is more destructive than helpful when it comes to evaluating individual performance. Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith suggests trying "feedforward"--a phrase he coined in a discussion with John Katzenbach, author of The Wisdom of Teams, Real Change Leaders and Peak Performance.

Giving and receiving feedback is considered an essential leadership skill. Employees need to know how they are doing, as they strive to achieve organisational goals. They need to know if their performance is what their leaders expect from them and, if not, they need suggestions on how to improve it.

Traditionally, this information has been communicated in the form of feedback from leaders to their employees. And, leaders themselves need feedback from their employees, in the form of suggestions for how to improve procedures and processes, innovative ideas for new products and services, and input on their own leadership styles. This has become increasingly common with the advent of 360[degrees] feedback.

But there is a fundamental problem with feedback: it focuses on that past, on what has already occurred--not on the infinite variety of things that can be in the future. As such, feedback can be limited and static, as opposed to expansive and dynamic.

Over the past several years, I have observed more than 5000 leaders as they participated in a fascinating experiential exercise. In the exercise, participants are each asked to play two roles. In one role, they are asked provide feedforward--that is, to give someone else suggestions for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they are asked to accept feedforward--that is, to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they can. The exercise typically lasts for 10 to 15 minutes, and the average participant has six to seven dialogue sessions.

In the exercise participants are asked to:

* Pick one behaviour that they would like to change. Change in this behaviour should make a significant, positive difference in their lives.

* Describe this behaviour to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as, "I want to be a better listener."

* Ask for feedforward--for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve a positive change in their selected behaviour. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give any feedback about the past. They are only allowed to give ideas for the future.

* Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgemental statements, such as, "That's a good idea."

* Thank the other participants for their suggestions.

* Ask the other persons what they would like to change.

* Provide feedforward--two suggestions aimed at helping them change.

* Say, "You are welcome" when thanked for the suggestions. The entire process of both giving and receiving feedforward usually takes about two minutes.

* Find another participant and keep repeating the process until the exercise is stopped.

When the exercise is finished, I ask participants to provide one word that best describes their reaction to this experience. I ask them to complete the sentence, "This exercise was ...". The words provided are almost always extremely positive, such as "great", "energising", "useful" or "helpful." The most common word mentioned is "fun!"

What is the last word that most of us think about when we receive coaching and developmental ideas?. Fun!

Ten reasons to try feedforward

Participants are then asked why this exercise is seen as fun and helpful as opposed to painful, embarrassing or uncomfortable. …

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